by Jaden Johnson
I have told many tales of my past before this one. Friends know me for it. With that said this is a story very few know. It’s taken me a year and a half of recovery to tell it. It’s not an easy journey to reflect on, for reasons I’ll get into I have much memory loss about the events. I feel it is time to let the world in on what I’ve learnt through my diagnosis and experiences thereafter. Here it goes.
It all started in a blur. The term was mania, but I wouldn’t learn of it for a few months yet. My new found energy could only be translated by me as some sort of spiritual experience. My mind was full of creativity, ideas, inventions, business plans, and god knows what else. I found sleep to be a bore, a waste of my ideas! All this mixed with the concept that I was unstoppably brilliant. This is all how I felt, now let me tell you what happened.
It was (by only my estimation) February of 2015 it all began for me. As I mentioned before I suffered much memory loss throughout my episode. It was all impossible for me to account for days or money in this state of mind. For simplicity sake I will list all the shenanigans I got myself into from the months of February to May. This is not out of laziness but rather a lack of chronological knowledge of these events. It went something like this:
Walking into work in pajamas, sunglasses, and sandals just to see if my work place was as chill is I thought.
Started many businesses around pot, cigarettes, liquor, and food. Spent and lost god knows how much.
Convinced myself I was the rebirth of Jesus as an explanation for my new found energy and perception of reality. This led me to think I was invincible and if I did die that it was as a Martyr.
Decided through rumors that the Hells Angels were poisoning the city with fake drugs and had a plan to take them down.
Decided to put all my friends through a test of friendship as I feared they were all going to betray me as a friend had in the past. Almost lost some of my best friends.
Got involved with everyone’s personal life to the point of accusing people of stealing money.
And the one that pushed me into the hospital. The story of The Pot.
Now this was at the pinnacle of my manic episode. The day was Mother’s Day and I decided to miss work after a terrible verbal fight with my brother. In my adventures driving around Duncan I found a garage sale. The things I bought were nothing short of absurd and spent nearly $150. From there I decided I wanted to buy some pot and started asking almost everyone. The man who decided to help me was a homeless man whose name slips me. He knew a guy who knows a guy if you know what I mean. After driving to this sketchy drug house we parked in a parking lot in Duncan. We were startled by a women looking terrified and not in the best place. She explained of this artsy ceramic pot she had stolen and how she felt she was being chased by the cops, she then asked to trade The Pot for drugs. I preceded to offer her pot for The Pot as I felt like a businessman that day. We made the trade and I spent the rest of the day with this man. He eventually came out to me as gay through are conversations on my own sexuality. He had never told anyone. How I ended up in the hospital was the Mother’s Day phone call I made telling my Mom the story every detail. At the end of the conversation I said “oh and Mom I am a rock star now and you should get used to it.” and hung up on her.
The next day I was taken to the Jubilee hospital for the most regrettable day of my life. The day my Mom called the cops on me.
I was full of rage this day. It was pent up from my rebellious teenage years. Nothing my parents ever did in their lives every deserved the things I was screaming at them that day. I was set off by the fact that my Mom said that I was seeing my family doctor, when in reality I wasn’t. It was a small thing that I blew up into what I thought was a manipulative scheme against me. I checked myself into the hospital and was then for a moment calm. The thing was is that I was set off by any of my surroundings. Including a women who entered the room with me spouting off about how the hospital hooked her on meds and she couldn’t escape. That is when everything went south.
I needed to get out of there. I was ready to run but thought better. I asked where the exit was and was told to stay. From there I started to dart for the exit. Security followed me but didn’t get involved. I was then reunited with my parents and their distress. In my rage I continued to yell at them and demand to be taken from this place. I tried to find the bus but had no luck. Eventually security asked my Mom to call the police. When they arrived I sat down in the middle of the sidewalk and refused to talk to them. Eventually I was handcuffed and placed in a wheelchair. From there I just remember fear and tears. I woke up in an isolation room. I continued to vent my rage by punching my mattress and screaming at the camera in the room. Eventually I calmed down and began my recovery in PES.
This part of the story is mainly me coming down from my episode. It was filled with the patchiest memories of my life. I played guitar, I drew pictures, my mind wondered all over. My diagnosis came through that period as less of a shock then I expected it to be. I was diagnosed Bi-Polar Type 1. I was isolated in the hospital for 2 months. It was structured in a way to get me ready to go back into society. I slowly earned the right to go for smokes, then leave for an hour then for a day. When I was discharged things were supposed to come back together for me. But that when I found out why Bi-Polar is also called Manic Depression.
I had never been depressed before. It was a new emptiness I had never felt before. I instantly turned suicidal and emotionless. I cannot express in words the feelings of no self-worth, loss of hope in life, and overall giving up. I lived with my Mom for a few weeks until I could bring myself to live at my own house. It took me a long time to become full again. The mania drained me of myself. I spent months finding who I was again, I had to remember how to feel.
After I started to feel better things came around. I started working again, continued with my band and had success, and overall was doing amazing. Unfortunately I wasn’t used to taking meds twice a day. I fell out of habit with my medication routine very easily. I would miss doses weekly and it only got worse. Eventually a one month supply would last me 2 months. Things seemed fine but a storm was brewing. I again lost track of time and money. I knew I was feeling manic again and loved it in small doses. I thought I could control it almost. Until the day I thought my roommate committed suicide.
There was very little evidence to suggest the theory that he was dead. Yet in my mania I broke down in tears and accepted that we had lost him. It was the morning after I decided to check myself into the hospital. To seek help before things got out of control again. It was probably the best decision I ever made.
This time was a lot different for me. I was put in a different short term wing. I knew what was expected of me and all the rules. I almost felt like a veteran there after my last experience. I made friends I still have, wrote a series of poems, and generally recovered. I never suffered the depression I got from my last episode. When I was released after a week and a half I went right back into life with no struggles. Things since then have been stable. I use an app to remind me to take my meds. I have learnt so much through all this it’s hard to summarize. But one thing I can say is no one is invincible. You need to seek help sometimes and not let it bring you down. Life is a constant struggle and the only way to get through is learning to cope, be it seeking others or your own coping. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about my story. Jessy and I are great resources for finding mental health support, support groups, and general community activities. I have included my personal Facebook for anyone who wants to get in touch. Thanks for reading.
Thank you so much to Jaden for opening up about his recovery! What an incredible connection.
Jaden also hosts an open mic for recovery every Sunday at the Eric Martin Pavilion here in Victoria. The Facebook group is an excellent way for us all to connect with each other and talk about overcoming our struggles with mental health and addiction.
Jaden can be contacted via his personal Facebook page here, or through his band page, Solvent of Society.
Thank you Jaden! I'm so happy to be connecting with you on this journey!
Okay, I'm a total anomaly. Along my travels I've met a few people who like me, don't drink or use drugs, and people like us are few and far between. Maybe even people who choose one or the other, or people who are taking a break. A lot of people I know frequently take a break. But at the end of the day, there is a lot of drinking that goes on the music scene, and why not? It is socially acceptable. Not everybody I hang around with gets blackout drunk every night, or even every weekend. A lot of my friends drink casually, while I don't at all.
I get the same question every time I meet somebody new who finds out I don't drink.
"Is it hard?"
It's a hard question to answer on the spot, because I want to say yes and I want to say no.
When I first moved to Victoria I was completely entranced by the music scene. I had gone to local shows when I lived in Duncan, but I focused a lot of my teenage years on the rave scene and all that goes along with it, the copious amounts of party drugs. Drinking wasn't necessarily a thing. In my teen years drinking was almost a last resort. So to come to a new city with music, instruments, and booze was almost like a complete and total culture shock for me. I couldn't believe that people could be so talented, and that they were just you know, regular people, that I could have a beer with. The lifestyle left me starstruck. I started drinking more than I ever had in my life.
I frequented a minimum of three shows a week, just because I could. Because in this city there is always live music, on any given night you can wander into a bar, lounge, restaurant, and find live music. And I drank at every single one, because I simply thought that it was what you were supposed to do. I drank at the afterparties, I drank at the bars, I had pre-drinks beforehand to save some cash.
I associated live music with drinking, and when I quit drinking I felt a cloud of sadness as I thought to myself that that was a part of my life I would have to give up as well.
About three months into my sobriety I had spent it all avoiding bars, music, and the scene. I started to get that familiar itch, that craving, that desperate feeling that something was missing in my life - but it wasn't booze. It was music.
I started to think to myself, can I do this? I can probably do this. I'm going to try to do this and see how it goes.
The first show I went to was hell, I'm not going to lie. I was riddled with anxiety of being in a bar. I quickly ordered a ginger ale so I could have something to sip on. I was shaking and afraid, and the only time that I felt remotely calm was when the music was playing, when I reminded myself that I was there for the music. I drank my ginger ale. I walked about the crowd and got beer spilled on me. I stayed strong. Looking back I was totally playing with fire. I also had my trusty defense mechanism, my car. I knew I wouldn't drink and drive, therefore I knew I wouldn't drink and leave my car somewhere. I also had the power to leave at any point.
After that initial first experience I didn't necessarily feel any stronger, but I had the sensation that I could do it again. Maybe the anxiety would lessen, maybe over time, things would and could get easier. I went home and I stocked up on ginger ale. It's become my security blanket.
So I decided to do it again. I don't remember if it was any easier. I remember it felt like an accomplishment. I felt like I knew that I had done it once before, and I was going to do it again. I started going to shows again. Not three a week, maybe one every two or three weeks. Just to prove to myself that I could.
Slowly, and then quickly, my life started to become about music again. Not only was I going to shows, I was coming home afterwards and playing my guitar. I was going to karaoke and I was singing. With each and every show and time I went out I had another night under my belt. I had a brand new sense of pride. I started introducing myself to people, meeting people, making friendships, and it felt so good.
Initially I was afraid to tell people I didn't drink. I thought that maybe people would judge me, or hound me on it. I wasn't ready to tell my story or answer any questions. I let people assume there was either booze in my ginger ale, or they wouldn't notice. Initially, only the bartenders knew my secret and grew to know my drink. Then it started happening and I started using my voice. People started to know that I didn't drink. And then the question - "Is it hard?"
So my answer is - yes. Yes it was fucking hard. It didn't happen overnight. I had to dip my toes in the water and weigh out the options. I knew that a life without music and all of the stuff that comes along with it, was going to make me miserable. So also my answer is no. Because cutting music out of my life for me just wasn't an option. It will never be.
It's been almost two years I haven't had a drink. It's been almost two years of me going to shows, of me going to the afterparties, the pre-parties, the campfires, the open mics, the festivals. It's been almost two years of ginger ale, and sometimes I mix it up with cranberry juice. It's been almost two years of clarity, of always getting myself home safe, of never blacking out, it's been almost two years without a hangover or the mental anguish of the way I used to drink. It's been almost two years of doing what I love, with a fresh perspective, and loving myself and taking pride in it. It's been almost two years of finding out that even though in this scene drinking is a norm, that there are countless people who support me. That there are people who take pride in me as much as I do in myself, and aren't afraid to open up to me about their own struggles with drinking.
It's been almost two years of shedding the alcoholic skin and being comfortable in my own skin.
On December 24th I celebrate my two years sober. This year, like last year, my sobriety will be my greatest Christmas present to myself, but every day it is the greatest gift I could have ever bestowed upon myself.
Sobriety for me has become the norm. I've spent more time now of my life in Victoria, in the scene, beside and part of the music, sober, than I had before drinking. The sober times outweigh the drunk times. The memories outweigh the blurred regrets.
Once upon a time it was hard. But slowly and so slowly with confidence, with support, and with enough love for myself ... now it's easy. Sober is just who I am.